LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Jitske Miedema

Position: Culinary Arts Teacher/Coordinator
School: Woodruff Career and Technical Center
School District: Peoria Public Schools District 150
City, State: Peoria , IL

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Jitske Miedema was nominated by her superintendent, Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

Woodruff Career and Technical Center, formerly Woodruff High School, was built in 1936, and many lifelong Peorians have fond memories of their alma mater. Upon entering the school cafeteria, they are surprised and delighted to find a room resembling an upscale bistro, complete with dimmed lighting, black table cloths and napkins, twinkle lights adorning strategically placed ficus trees, and soft jazz playing in the background. No longer a high school cafeteria, this is the Warrior Way Café, a project of Peoria Public Schools Culinary Arts program, coordinated by Jitske Miedema. 

Universally known as Chef Jitty, she has transformed the WCTC Culinary Arts program in only four years. Each Thursday during the school year, the 43 Culinary Arts students serve over 200 lunches, both dine-in and carry-out. The lunch menus, which are created, prepared, plated and served by students, display a diverse range of culinary skills and cuisines. They include an appetizer, entreé, side dishes, dessert and beverage, and often follow a holiday or international theme. Widely known as the best $5 lunch in town, the Thursday lunch draws professionals from nearby businesses. Many of the other PPS 26 buildings order lunches for their staff as well. The Warrior Way Café introduces the Peoria community to the other outstanding career and technical programs at WCTC and the outstanding career pathway opportunities PPS offers high school students.  

Dedicated and industrious, Chef Jitty manages her classroom and kitchen with a laid-back style that nonetheless conveys to students the exacting and rigorous professional standards of world-class restaurant kitchens and hospitality management. In addition to their work in the Warrior Way Café, her students receive exemplary prepration for the professional world through exposure to high-pressure culinary competitions. For three years, Chef Jitty’s students have competed in the Illinois Restaurant Association’s Annual Pro-Start competition, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Chef Jitty and associate Mark Streamer of Sodexo, begin coaching students two-to-three times a week after school nearly four months prior to the competition. 

Students must pass a 15-minute knife skills test, perform two chicken-butchering tests and a salmon filet test, demonstrate proper mise en place, and participate in a station set-up competition. Students must arrive at Pro-Start with a 20-plus page restaurant business plan and present a ten-minute multi-media marketing plan, followed by a 15-minute question and answer session by judges, including five-star restaurant chefs. Students must also participate in a 20-minute critical thinking test, solving typical restaurant problems such as power outages to demonstrate knowledge of health codes and industry standards. 

Finally, teams of students must prepare a three-course meal within one hour using only two stovetop burners and no electric appliances, such as food processors or blenders. During the entire Pro-Start competition, team coaches must remain completely silent and on the sidelines. Chef Jitty’s superb skills as a culinary coach are apparent as WCTC teams have placed in the top ten at ProStart. Chef Jitty’s students also won the 2017 Illinois Central College (ICC) Culinary Arts Chopped competition and competed against professional chefs from Peoria's top restaurants at a Food Fight fund raising event for Neighborhood House, a local social service agency. 

She and her assistant teachers, Cindy Collins and Kevin Roecker, treat students as professional colleagues, and the respect is reciprocated. This respectful and nurturing atmosphere is passed along to younger students each year, when Culinary Arts students are paired with PPS fifth-grade students for the Sodexo Future Chefs competition. When each school’s fifth-grade winner arrives at the final competition, they are paired with a WCTC Culinary Arts mentor student, who works with them to prepare their entry. The fifth-graders, coached by their high school mentor, spend several hours preparing their entry before judging. 

"Graduates of the WCTC Culinary Arts program have continued their education at prestigious post-secondary culinary and hospitality management programs, including Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies, many with scholarships,"  Desmoulin-Kherat said. "Others continue their education at ICC and enter the restaurant industry upon high school graduation. All have been guided to a fulfilling and successful career in the industry by LifeChanger Chef Jitty Miedema."

Comments (28)

Jackie Dominy Posted over a year ago

Cheers to the wonderful work that Chef Jitty is doing. The students in her program are not only learning culinary skills but they are also learning wonderful life lessons that they will benefit from for the rest of their lives. They are learning about public speaking, customer service, problem solving skills and so much more that these young adults will hold on to for many years to come. Chef Jitty you are such a great mentor to many and I know that this program will continue to be a success. Thanks for the great meals and for helping our greater community! We are so blessed to have you!

Wendy McKiernan Posted over a year ago

Jetty is an amazing woman! Her devotion to her students is wonderful and the students are really learning some great life lessons. Jetty is transforming their lives so that they can go,on and be successsful in life. The school and the students are lucky to,have Jetty.

Sarah Georgi Posted over a year ago

Jetty is amazing! Her dedication to the program and her students is unsurpassable. She is an amazing teacher and truly cares about each students success. Jetty is a Lifechanger!

Hasmig Posted over a year ago

So many people talk about what needs to change in the world and so few actually step in to make that change. Her influence will alter the course of her student's lives. This impact is immeasurable.

Debbie Wawrzyniak Posted over a year ago

It is impressive that Chief Jitty and the WWC program emphasize quantitative skills (knife) and qualitative (innovative = lack of power) skills while encouraging a respectful and learning environment. Transformational change within four years is amazing and attainable because Jitty set the direction, communicated and re-enforced expectations to her student colleagues. Real life learning and transferable skills - WELL DONE!!!

Pamela Posted over a year ago

Chef Miedema manages to be a wonderful mom and teacher. She truly cares about people. Her classes are popular because she is the teacher. Her leadership and passion inspires her students to form a career path. She changes lives by giving young people hope and dreams while showing them the skills and attitude to make them productive members of the culinary world.

Patricia Petersen Posted over a year ago

An amazing woman who is passionate about her students getting a head start on life.

Kristen Posted over a year ago

What an amazing achievement and innovative idea! I’m so delighted to hear the tremendous impact of the program! Well done!!

Donna Lee Kalinoski Posted over a year ago

The Peoria School system can be proud of Chef Jitty. With her coordination and imagination she not only created an atmosphere unique to a school cafeteria, she did it with the assistance of the students. She is teaching those students more than just how to prepare food. The students, their parents, the school system and the town have someone to look up to and be proud of.

Shawn R. Stever Posted over a year ago

I currently work for Peoria Public Schools as a painter. I first met Chef Jitty when we painted her class room, It was their I learned about the start of the upcoming lunch being served on Thursdays. I came to first one and haven't missed one since, unless I was on vacation. I have watched the program grow and have posted many fliers at the location I work at and have spread the word around town about the great value and experience Chef Jitty and her assistants provide. It quickly became known as the best $5 lunch in town. The best part for me is seeing Chef Jitty and her students every Thursday. I call it my fine dining experience. Chef Jitty has made a huge impact on these students. She is very calm and patient and well prepared. As a result of her demeanor the students can also learn in a very nurturing environment, as each student is always very polite as they serve you your lunch. This is always a day of the week that I look forward to, seeing Chef Jitty lead in a very positive way, and the response it brings makes for a delightful experience.

BraNiya Posted over a year ago

She is a great instructor she helpedfind out what i wanted to do in life i had a passion to cook and being here everyday with hers made me realize thats who i want to be like she is a great rolemodel but a better instructor

Gregory Wilson Posted over a year ago

From the first day I met Chef Jitty Miedema she has always been helpful and understanding. She has placed her passion inside making the WCTC Culinary Arts program awesome and it shows everyday. Her staff has been amazing in making sure our mentorship program is provided with a variety of foods every other week. She is a phenomenal leader and a great person. This nomination is well deserved.

Nichole Mayer Posted over a year ago

Chef Jetty is an amazing member of our team here at WCTC. She is constantly trying to find ways to support her students and the staff. She is tough, you don't mess around with Chef Jetty and the students thrive because of that. She can "bark" orders in the busy kitchen on Cafe day and without hesitation, or talking back the students just react and do what she asks of them. She creates a real life restaurant environment for her students to learn in. This in return helps them to understand the flow and stress of a restaurant and when they go looking for jobs, they are an asset to that establishment. She has built the culinary program here from the ground up and has done so successfully. The students serve over 200 meals each and every week to the community. She gives students confidence that they didn't have before. They often come in her class quiet and shy, by their 2nd year, they will go up and talk to anyone. This is a trait that will carry them throughout their lives and help make them successful in everything that they do. I feel privileged to work with her and see the change in the students each year. She deserves this award and many others!

Britny Pickett Posted over a year ago

Chef Jetty is the best teacher I could have! I am a culinary arts student at WCTC and this is my last year in the program. At the beginning of me doing this I wasnt planning on even doing culinary after high school but being in this program with her teaching everything I know about it Culinary Arts is the only thing I could see myself doing in the future and I owe that all to her.

Sherry Harris Posted over a year ago

We have been going to the Woodruff Warrior Café for lunch for the last year and a half. We are never disappointed with any part of the experience. You always see Chef Jetty guiding and encouraging the student chefs, the servers, the host/hostess. She always comes around to each table to check on the 'customers' to make sure we are being served properly and timely and talks about her students' progress and is excited to tell of any good things happening with them. All the students are pleasant and seem genuinely happy to be in this class and learning all aspects of the culinary world. And, the food is always good and interesting! My husband and a neighbor are always with me, and they too look forward to each Thursday!

Cindy Morris Posted over a year ago

I’m writing a letter of recommendation for the WCTC – Woodruff Career and Technical Center’s Culinary program for our students in Peoria Public Schools and for its leader Jitske Miedema. We have one of the finest programs I’ve witnessed and I’m so thankful we have this opportunity in our school district for our students. Our Peoria Public Schools Foundation exists to exclusively support our schools, students and staff. We have just come off our Third Annual 365 Breakfast. The breakfast is a fundraiser for our donors and friends in the community. We had over 230 guests in attendance and the event is held at WCTC where the culinary students make the breakfast. The breakfast is fantastic in every way. It is delicious and we get so many compliments on it, the food and students are one of the highlights of the breakfast. We thoroughly enjoy the interaction, the professionalism of the collaboration, and I must say that their instructional leader is top-notch. Jitske Miedema leads these students and has for the last three years and I’ve enjoyed working with her and these students more than I can say. She is a great mentor, encourager, teacher and she is a big reason the culinary program has grown and is so successful. In my position, I get to work with many people in the community, and on so many different levels. Jitske Miedema has been one of my favorites to work with and watch how she works this program masterfully. I love the way she interacts with students, her colleagues and the community. She is inspiring and extremely dedicated and it would be incredibly cool for her to win on the national level.

Marie Lindahl Posted over a year ago

Ms. Jetty is my daughter's favorite teacher. She challenges and encourages her daily to be the best culinary student she can be. She know when she needs that extra push to be successful. Ms. Jetty deserves this award.

Lynn Posted over a year ago

Chef is the best! My mom has food allergies and she caters to her needs every week in spite of the number of people she has coming in and out of the cafe throughout the course of the day. The meals are delicious even though the students must keep the recipes are a secret... lol. As a parent of one of her students, she's the best teacher my daughter has EVER had. She's both nurtured and matured my daughter in the 2 years she's been in the culinary program. Peoria Pubic Schools is blessed to have such a teacher.

Debi Redington Posted over a year ago

Congratulations Chef Miedema, What a valuable skill you are teaching our students. Not only will they be able to make a good living someday but as parents they will know how to prepare good nutritious food for their children!! I look forward to seeing some of your culinary students on the Iron Chef some day!

Robin Anderson Posted over a year ago

Ms Miedema has worked so hard to create an invaluable resource in our community! She is the ultimate "life changer"!

Sharon Robinson Posted over a year ago

She goes above and beyond for the participants in this program. She caters to individual needs to the guests who come with any kind of allergies! She's very deserving trying to spread herself thin with the program, students, staff and her own family!

Brandon Konsler Posted over a year ago

Jetty is an amazing teacher. Her dedication to her students is truly inspiring!

Willa Lucas Posted over a year ago

I am a regular at Warrior Way Cafe. The food is excellent, but most importantly, the students are so polite and well mannered. It is obvious that they are trained on far more than how much salt to add to the recipe!! Even if the youth do not pursue restaurant or hospitality careers, the lessons they have learned will help them have a much brighter future. Chef Jetty, along with the teachers she supervises, is definitely a life changer for the students in the Culinary Arts program.

kip switzer Posted over a year ago

Amazing would put it mildly just keep on doing what you are doing , and thank you!

Andres DIAZ Posted over a year ago

In a community where access to good food and education don’t necessarily go hand in hand, this woman and her team are making that happen. She is changing the lives of teens in Peoria one lunch at a time. Brava on the nomination and good luck to Chef Jitty!

kelley c mammen Posted over a year ago

What a program. When I go it is nice to see these young people behave, be courteous, appear happy and seem to be enjoying themselves. They are not out running the streets but learning a skill/trade that will give them a future. This chief has gotten something going that will forever impact their lives , their future and make them productive. The food is top notch and service is always with a smile. For young adults to act this way you know they are emulating the people, instructor they are with. To have a program like this here in Peoria speaks volumes about her ability to interact, mentor and keep a successful program going. It takes a special person to do this and she fills the bill. There is choices in the food, a nice portion is served and it is goo. Enjoy watching these young adults learn a trade and a skill!!!

Diane Scott Posted over a year ago

Chef Jitty Miedema lunches are always wonderful. The food taste very good and I would highly recommend it. Her student's behavior and attitudes reflect back that Chef Jitty is a wonderful teacher and role mode. Students appear knowledgeable and proud of the work they have done. Students report they are taking her class for more than one year. Chef Jitty's students are professional and courteous. Chef Jitty will come to your table and ask how things are going. I have enjoyed all of my visits.

Wendy McKiernan Posted over a year ago

Wow, Jetty is amazing! She has definitely poured her heart and soul into this program and the students are so lucky to have her as their mentor.